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Remember Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist convicted for mail fraud and conspiracy who was sentenced to several years in jail? Well, Abramoff wrote a book. Several of the early Amazon reviews struck me as a somewhat artificial in tone, so I did a little digging into the reviews at

One reviewer is "Edward Buckham." Looks like he might be a former lobbyist and a former top aide to Tom DeLay. Buckham's company employed Tom DeLay's wife and had to shut down because the firm "was fatally damaged by publicity about the ongoing federal investigation into the affairs of Abramoff," according to the Washington Post: . Buckham doesn't disclose any connection to Abramoff either in his Amazon review of Abramoff's book or in his 1-star review of a different book critical of Abramoff.

Another reviewer is listed as "Donald W Keyser" of Fairfax Station, Virginia. It looks like that's the same Donald Keyser who "pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession of secret documents, and to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding his sexual relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence officer" in 2005, according to Wikipedia:

Another reviewer lists their name as "walfredo freitas." There's a "Free Jack Abramoff" page on Facebook at where a "Walfredo De Freitas" praises Abramoff, and the admin for the "Free Jack Abramoff" page is listed as "Walfredo." Walfredo also appears to be a lobbyist, according to

Another reviewer is Vicki Siegel of Bethesda, Maryland. That might be Vicki Siegel Herson, a former lobbyist and one-time legislative aide to Arlen Specter. Specter faced questions that he directed roughly $50 million dollars in earmarks to clients represented by Vicki Siegel's husband, Michael Herson (also a lobbyist) according to the New York Times: It appears that Siegel resumed lobbying in 2011, this time for her husband's firm.

These people are of course welcome to their opinion of Abramoff's book, but if any of them knew Abramoff or had connections to him, I wish they had disclosed those relationships in their Amazon reviews. There's also several other 5-star reviews from Amazon profiles like "politico" and "DC Dubious" where the reviewer's identity is not revealed.

Does anyone like +Dan Gillmor or +Jeff Jarvis or +Jay Rosen know someone who could do a proper job of contacting the people involved for comment or asking Amazon to check for shenanigans with Abramoff's Amazon reviews?
The latest news on the investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including his plea agreement and ties to Washington politicians.
Benoit Fries's profile photoDan Gillmor's profile photonina gregory's profile photoMatt Cutts's profile photo
Identifying and demoting bad web content as usual, aren't you? :)
What would you like these people to comment on? Their associations with Abramoff or that they weren't explicit about them in their Amazon reviews? Would you want to ask Amazon about its editorial policy? User generated content has its flaws, doesn't it?
I'm guessing you used Google to find all that info out right Matt? #hehe
Greg, that's right. Nina, I would hope that people would reveal if they had a relationship with Abramoff in their reviews. And Amazon might want to check into the reviews by profiles like "Thoughtful in Seattle" and "DC Dubious."

Another Amazon reviewer commented: "I noticed that this is the first review ever posted by several five-star reviewers, and it is the second or third review for all the other five-star reviewers. Also, 9 of the 12 people who reviewed this book before I did read the entire book and published their five-star rave reviews on the exact same day this book was released."
Fond though admirable wish that dodgy lobbyist and legislative ex-players would default to full disclosure. For an entertaining and thought-provoking treatment of the Abramoff episode, you could do worse than director George Hickenlooper's swan song, Casino Jack.
The Keyser guy DID mention a relationship with Abramoff

I can personally attest..... (he was there)

As one of the relatively few Americans who also once set foot in the southern Africa landlocked mountain kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, I can personally attest that Mr. Abramoff has captured brilliantly the sheer comic weirdness of that scene.

Besides by insisting that Abramoff is truly giving a real picture of what goes on there... He is also implying he is part of that scene

No foul play here

Just very admiring co-workers
So how can we clean all this up? Its up to We The People to keep an eye on the gov but we just want to live our lives, not police officials. How do we fix the corruption in gov?
+Scott Fletcher with respect to the film, but the documentary is much, much better. 'Casino Jack and the United States of Money':

a must watch for anybody interested in the topic, and much better than the movie. It is a documentary created by Alex Gibney, who is famous for his other films such as Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room, Client 9, No End in Sight, etc.:

all of his films are worth watching. Oh, and nice work, Matt.
Add a comment to each of those reviews pointing out what you found out, the reviews will get marked "not useful" by other people who see your comments and will eventually drop off the radar. There's probably also a "mark as inappropriate" link you can click once you've done that that will eventually flag it.
da CaPo
Well, with respect to reviews, Amazon isn't so much different from Google Places. I've reported several similar occurrences of obvious fake reviews to the Google team. They just referred me to ask the respective sites' owners. ;-)
Matt, are you thinking of automating your approach? It seems like detecting first-time-five-star reviews, and maybe only-time-five-star reviews, would be easy enough. Following the name (assuming it's real) to on-line sources might be trickier, but once you get to the source (I'm guessing) you can rely on other reputation systems.
Amazon didn't do anything when the historian Orlando Figes was found to have been posting negative reviews of his rivals' books and raves of his own.

On the other hand, the fact that people made a big deal of it, as you so excellently have here, meant that he was forced eventually to admit responsibility and apologise and take "leave" from his job. So pointing these things out is the important thing to do: nice work, +Matt Cutts .
I thought it was widely known that Amazon reviews were gamed frequently. 
heh... poor guy got just 12 (twelve) 5* reviews. Some "artificial" in tone from supporters... but this is kind of ok, right? People who support him also supported his book. If you want real fun, look at Tim Ferris "4 hour body" book reviews. the book got 1103 (yes, one thousand one hundred three) 5 star reviews! Quite a few published on the day book published. Many suspect a little army of personal assistants Tim recommended to use in his first book.
For me this highlights the need for social proof in the future of the web. I don't think that we will ever really have the manpower to be able to vet reviews one by one or weed out 'reported' suspicious reviews. What you guys are doing with Google+, it's integration into search and the real names policy which lets us see what the people who we have circled have endorsed online is a tremendous advantage in this area. Essentially in the future we will all be able to have real reviews from trusted individuals on anything at all.
The guy can't do anything in a legitimate way, can he? Right down to scamming Amazon reviews, it looks like he's got a pathological knack for gaming any system he touches.
i know its the weekend +Matt Cutts but care to comment on the gamification of google places reviews and the google response? or if i've missed i'd really appreciate a link. cheers.
+Matt Cutts Gaming of Amazon reviews is a well-known phenomenon. My only surprise in what you've found is that some of people were apparently using their real names and could therefore be spotted. Perhaps you could post there what you've posted here, in comments on the reviews you've cited -- and ask these people if they are who they appear to be?

Barring a big investment in employees who do nothing but investigate connections, I'm not sure what Amazon can do to prevent this kind of thing; it's the nature of user reviews. They could have tougher terms of service to at least insist on disclosure, but that's not going to change dishonest people's behavior, either.

That said, Amazon could do so much more with its reviews to make them more useful. It's obviously not high on the priority list, though. (My own disclosure: I own some Amazon stock.)
lol - +Matt Cutts is starting to remind me of Larry the health inspector from Friends who shuts down all the restaurants he and Phoebe visit!

Matt Cutts - always looking for scams!
If a large portion of online reviews and postings were linked by rel="author" to Google+ accounts, we could individually downvote people who have unreported conflicts of interest. I suppose trust scores would have to be primarily individual and social, to prevent them from being gamed easily. However, it seems it would be very hard to stop real world paid links; if I pay someone with a lot of influence to follow me, could Google deduce the relationship was false? It could probably at least look at the content shared in the false link and see if it's relevant to the topic of the purported link....but then you're calculating trust scores on individual topics, which seems much more complicated.
other quality factors could be age of the google account of the reviewer, activity in that account, review activity in that account all contributing to the trust score +Dave Nielsen refers to.
I always wondered if his cellmate's name was Abram.
Matt, I totally agree with you. If you have some type of connection to an author, received an early or free copy you should disclose that info. I not only believe this, I do it. My first Amazon review that required a disclosure follows: "The following is an approved excerpt of my review of Brett King's book, Bank 2.0, that was published by the ABA Banking Journal. I offered to review the book for the ABA Banking Journal as I am a Community Banker and was planning on reading Brett King's book. They accepted my offer and provided me with a publishers copy."

Thanks for doing the research on Jack's book.
Wow that's some really good investigating!
+nina gregory I thought about it a bit more, and I suppose the questions I'd ask to the reviewers would be along the lines of "Did anyone ask you to write a review of the book on Amazon? If so, who contacted you? Were you compensated in any way? Are you aware of anyone attempting to influence the Amazon reviews for Abramoff's book?"

Then I'd ask Amazon to check into whether any of the anonymous reviews looked fishy to them in any way. I'd also ask whether Amazon has a team of people who manually check for manipulation of reviews, or whether the entire process is automated. I think Amazon does a great job on making their reviews trustworthy, but the idea that Abramoff (or someone acting in his favor) might not have learned the right lessons about influence peddling seems like a great hook for a story.

By the way, check out . Apparently Walfredo de Freitas, in addition to running a "Free Jack Abramoff" page, is using his position as director of the Indiana Society for the Prevention to Cruelty the Animals to espouse the position that "Husbands who eat meat have bad performance in bed" and that "Consumption of meat is helping to increase the number of divorced couples, adultery and spreading Sexually Transmitted Diseases, including HIV." There just has to be an interesting segment here somewhere. :)
+Matt Cutts every single new book is like this. Check out any of Tim Ferris's books or really any other book published by people who know how to manipulate reviews. They send a bunch of review copies of the book to all their friends and ask them to write reviews on Amazon.
They also manipulate "best seller" lists by having friends and companies buy large quantities. It's bullshit.
+Matt Cutts I will make some calls on Monday. It would be interesting to know if people get paid to write reviews on Amazon, and who's paying, though how different is this from the book blurb? Famous (and infamous) people always have other famous (and infamous) people write their book blurb -- though you don't get paid for a blurb.

If there's a there there, could be nice pegged to the Kindle Fire coming out this week... I'll keep you posted.
+Matt Cutts - that sounds like an interesting 20% project considering how reviews are fairly integrated into google these days. There must be be some linguistic hint that the commenter is incentivised ... or perhaps that's how you spotted it? (Pay per post articles are probably fairly similar)
Hi +Matt Cutts, the project which has recently been funded on kickstarter might be a solution for these problems (it should permit everyone to annotate sentences or paragraphs of a web page, for source checking, bias, etc) If you haven't heard of it yet, you should definitely have a look:
Thanks for looking into it, +nina gregory . If there is a there there, it would be a pretty interesting story. :)
+Matt Cutts, et al - just wanted to keep you updated: have not heard back yet from Amazon (perhaps they're too busy pushing the Kindle Fire out a day early).

Did speak with a major publisher who said reviewers on Amazon definitely do NOT get paid by them or Amazon to write reviews. And publishers can't do much about the reviews, good or bad. On occasion, if there is some kind of glaring error, they can try to get Amazon to address it but they say Amazon is often slow to respond.

Will confirm with Amazon and let you know what they say. In the meantime, this was all I could find on the site's editorial policy:

It's still difficult to know if individual authors pay people, but will try to find that out, too.
+nina gregory I'm glad you're looking into this... betcha Amazon won't be helpful, though...
Good to know, +nina gregory . Thanks for checking with Amazon to confirm that, and for asking a major publisher how they handle reviews.
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